Empathy affects tradeoffs between life's quality and duration

Autoři: Adrianna C. Jenkins aff001
Působiště autorů: Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America aff001
Vyšlo v časopise: PLoS ONE 14(10)
Kategorie: Research Article
doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221652


Sharing others’ emotional experience through empathy has been widely linked to prosocial behavior, i.e., behavior that aims to improve others’ welfare. However, different aspects of a person’s welfare do not always move in concert. The present research investigated how empathy affects tradeoffs between two different aspects of others’ welfare: their experience (quality of life) and existence (duration of life). Three experiments offer evidence that empathy increases the priority people place on reducing others’ suffering relative to prolonging their lives. Participants assigned to high or low empathy conditions considered scenarios in which saving a person’s life was incompatible with extinguishing the person’s suffering. Higher empathy for a suffering accident victim was associated with greater preference to let the person die rather than keep the person alive. Participants expressed greater preference to end the lives of friends than strangers (Experiment 1), those whose perspectives they had taken than those whom they considered from afar (Experiment 2), and those who remained alert and actively suffering than those whose injuries had rendered them unconscious (Experiment 3). These results highlight a distinction between empathy’s effects on the motivation to reduce another person’s suffering and its effects on the prosocial behaviors that sometimes, but do not necessarily, follow from that motivation, including saving the person’s life. Results have implications for scientific understanding of the relationship between empathy and morality and for contexts in which people make decisions on behalf of others.

Klíčová slova:

Behavior – Consciousness – Decision making – Emotions – Motivation – Pain sensation – Prosocial behavior – Syncope


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